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Albemarle-Pamlico National Estuary Program - 2012-07-31

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An estuary education in Salter Path

By Erin Thompson, APNEP intern
July 31, 2012

 A Bogue Sound sunset from the Trinity Center in Salter Path

A Bogue Sound sunset from the Trinity Center in Salter Path

I peered off the dock’s safe and sturdy planks into the water. On the shoreline dotted with Spartina grasses, snails and crabs lay strewn across the mud. As the teachers eagerly charged into the water, racing down the pier’s ladder, I looked on warily and weighed my options. The sound was gorgeous and I work for an estuary program, so this should be a cinch. However, oyster shells are sharp, crabs have claws, and snails are slimy. Gripping my dip net firmly, I edged over to the steps leading into the water and began to make my way down, hoping no one saw my hesitation.

Meanwhile, the teachers were already wet. Some immediately began to dip their nets to see what they could catch, pulling up shrimp, fish and tiny translucent crabs. Others wandered into the grasses, finding waving fiddler crabs and sedentary snails. The teachers showed off their discoveries excitedly, chatting about the scientific names, habitats or in some cases what kind of environmental threats the organisms faced.

I was at the yearly Sound Learning Teaching Institute in Salter Path. For a week, I worked and learned side–by-side with 24 teachers selected to participate in the program. The institute is funded by the Albemarle-Pamlico National Estuary Program and the UNC Superfund Research Program, but many of North Carolina’s premier coastal educators from several organizations make time to share their expertise.

Trekking through the Rachel Carson Reserve

Trekking through the Rachel Carson Reserve

Educators investigate the relationships between water quality, environmental science, health and civics while gaining experience to help them become more confident in the classroom. The institute is predicated on the idea that teachers who are knowledgeable and passionate about environmental affairs will be successful in encouraging students to respect and protect our estuarine system.

The institute engages teachers with hands-on experiences and outdoor activities. Throughout the week, visits to Bogue Sound, Salter Path Beach, the N.C. Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores and the Rachel Carson National Estuarine Research Reserve gave teachers the opportunity to use all five of their senses, enhancing the learning experience. En route to Bird Shoal, teachers tasted salty pickleweed on a trek across marshy grassland. At the Pine Knoll Shores aquarium, teachers felt the slick skin of rays. While exploring Bogue Sound, the teachers saw and heard the many species that called it home.

Teachers prepare for the short ferry between Pivers Island and Bird Shoal

Teachers prepare for the short ferry between Pivers Island and Bird Shoal

Jana Tasich, an Alamance County teacher, explained the importance of the institute.

“Sharing these experiences with my students will help to create buy-in for water quality and its importance,” Tasich said.

Teachers participate in a stream assessment activity

Teachers participate in a stream assessment activity

Through these teachers, APNEP supports the next generation of scientists and policy makers as they learn about the complexities and trade-offs inherent in environmental stewardship.

Even though I had been working for the estuary program all summer, I hadn’t stepped foot in any of the sounds. It all finally clicked—this beautiful place is what I was working for. This mirrored the outcome for the teachers, who learned that hands-on experience could give them a huge advantage in the classroom.

Dolphins occassionally make an appearance in Taylor's Creek near the Beaufort waterfront

Dolphins occassionally make an appearance in Taylor's Creek near the Beaufort waterfront

The middle and high school teachers left the institute with an appreciation for water quality. Perhaps more practically, they also left with dozens of new activities and tools to better educate their students about the estuarine and environmental affairs.

“It would be difficult to pick just a few things that I will take back to my classroom for next school year,” said Stephanie Reid, a teacher from Guilford County.

Reid said the curriculum she teaches requires coverage of many of the topics discussed at the institute.

“I walked into this week a novice, and now walk away with tools to make me an exemplar,” Tasich said at the conclusion of the institute. “I hope to have students study the importance of estuaries on the global level, but also their importance on the local level.”

A wild horse breaks from the herd at the Rachel Carson Reserve

A wild horse breaks from the herd at the Rachel Carson Reserve

An annual event since 2004, hundreds of institute alumni now teach thousands of students about our sounds each year.

The positive reviews are encouraging to staff members at APNEP, who expect to continue supporting the institute for the foreseeable future.

At the end of the week, I walked down the boardwalk leading into the sound and sat on the ladder. As the tide came in I watched crabs scurry along and schools of tiny fish swimming in the shallows. Instead of feeling a little scared, I felt at peace. I was inspired by the teachers I met during the week and was proud of them for having the drive to be better teachers.

On the last day of the institute, the author enjoys the sunset in Salter Path

On the last day of the institute, the author enjoys the sunset in Salter Path

As I watched the sunset, I said goodbye to the sound. Realizing that the sun is also setting on my internship with APNEP, I reflected on what I have learned this summer. After three years of college, my expertise regarding the sounds was mostly theoretical. A few short weeks later, I have developed a working knowledge of estuarine issues while growing as a person and an employee.

Erin Thompson’s summer internship with the Albemarle-Pamlico National Estuary Program officially ends Aug. 8. She is a rising senior at North Carolina State University majoring in Natural Resources Policy and Administration.

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